Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Review deaths in custody call

Download PDFDownload PDF

MEDIA RELEASEWARWICK SMITH M.H.R. is. Federal Member for BassSHADOW MINISTER FOR ABORIGINAL AFFAIRS1.19 September ’89Review Deaths in Custody CallAboriginal critics of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody ought to be listened to, Warwick Smith, Shadow Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, said today.Mr Smith said the Royal Commission, originally intended to cost $2.2 million, had cost over $12 million to date and had a projected final cost of $30 million.'When it was set up the Royal Commission had a staff of 12. Its final report was due in December 1988. Since then its brief has expanded enormously. This includes Aboriginal Issues Units to examine the underlying issues associated with deaths in custody. The Royal Commission now has a staff of 110 and its final report is due in December 1990.'Mr Smith said there had been much criticism of the Royal Commission among Aborigines and non-Aborigines alike.'Charles Perkins has called for a review of the work of the Royal Commission. His view'is that examining the underlying causes is "a lot of rubbish ... They know exactly what the underlying causes are". He believes there has been no justice to date for Aboriginal people and that the Royal Commission has provided a bonanza for lawyers.'Mr Smith said the Royal Commission was in danger of becoming a legal quagmire which could defeat the whole purpose of the inquiry.'It is important that the Royal Commission provide positive directions, policies and practices and that the criminal justice system is seen to be, and is, fair to all Australians regardless of race.'Note: Transcript attached C O M M O N W E A L T H PARLIAMENTARY LIBRARY MICAHContact: (003) 31 4322 (003) 44 8517


Transcript 'Becker's Broadside' 7ZR - ABC Hobart 15/9/89


SUE: I can't Interview someone like you without bringing up this most horrifying scene that we've seen in this country....the facts emerging through the Muirhead Royal Commission.... I'd like to just listen to you and I'd like all our regular listens all to hear your comments and your views on this.

Pe r k i n s : well, i do think that there ought to be a review of what's happening to the Royal Commission into black deaths in custody. It ought to be perhaps stopped for a while, while people do an assessment of just exactly where their going, because some people have said now - and I believe they've gone along the path of looking at the underlying causes - well that is a lot of rubbish. That need not happen. They know exactly what the underlying causes are and all that's doing is spending money in the wrong area and providing jobs

for certain people.

The second thing is, they ought to be more decisive in some of their inquiries in terms of the deaths that have occurred to date .There's been no prosecutions of any policeman or any warden in the prisons and it looks as though the Aboriginal

people have just died in vain and this inquiry's provided nothing. So I think there ought to be a review - that's probable the best way of putting it -an assessment of where

they're going because a lot of money is just going to the lawyers and Aboriginal people are not getting justice out of it. You know their eons h^ve died in prison and nobody has been called to order for that at all — to answer for that.

SUE: H o w a n g r y are the pe o p l e t h e m s e l v e s ?

PERKINS: The families are very angry because some of their people - relatives- have died in prison in a very bad way and they want to know just exactly what happened, they want some justice, they want some proper information as to what happened in prisons - and some of them died horribly - and

it's an enormous responsibility on the Commission I know and they're probably trying their best, but the fact is there's been no justice to date for the Aboriginal people and there's been no answers either and some people have got off

scott free.

SUE: Now I imagine that you've just talked about the families - obviously their anger and resentment and despair but what about right throughout the country the Aboriginal community - those who may not have lost people - families in those cells - what was their reaction - that was a total miscarriage of justice for the black Australians?

PERKINS: Obviously yes, and their thinking there must be something drastically wrong with the Royal Commission that



there is not anything new and it has not brought anybody to order in terms that there have been no prosecution of some of the people that have been involved and they want some justice as well - I think it's running through the total community - not just the families themselves and I've never

said a word on this previously so this is my first expression in terms of the Royal Commission itself and so I think the Commissioners ought to get together and stop all this nonsense in terms of looking into underlying causes - in fact

I heard one Commissioner say its something to do with the Kadaitja- you know - the medicine men of some of the tribes, well that's another lot of rubbish as well.

SUE: Who said that?

PERKINS: One particular Commissioner said that, when he was recently appointed, that its probably something to do with the Kadaitja people. Well that is not at all relevant. What is relevant is what's happening when the people are put into

custody and they're not being looked after. Even today some of the State governments have made no attempt to be able to take notice of Muirhead's recommendations in terms of fixing up some of those prisons and some of those cells they go into and so really it ought to be reviewed immediately.

SUE: But there some...

PERKINS: There've been 30 deaths you know since the Royal Commission was established.

SUE* ..... There are some States that are now having Aboriginal people in gaols because of alcohol, accompanied.

PERKINS: Some of them are, but there's no uniformity about it at all and that's very depressing.

SUE* I'd like to ask you - with the history of Aboriginals - their totally different concept of values, their priorities. Would you like to see, in some cases, your own legal system, one based on Aboriginal law and customs.

PERKINS* In some places it's no longer relevant but in many place it really should be given some consideration and it depends on where you look at and it where to apply it. Aboriginal customary law Is a question that one particular

Commission has been looking at for quite some time, and its incorporation into Australian law and there ought to be some recognition of that. But it's very difficult when you try to apply two laws and make them both applicable in the one

society. However people are looking at that and they are wanting to do something about it but there are enormous difficulties.

SUE: I just wondered if it is possible that the Aborigine himself or herself could have the choice whether they wanted to be tried under the Westminster system or through their own Aboriginal legal system...

PERKINS: Well, there is only one law with many Aboriginal people in traditional communities and that's Aboriginal law




and they take notice of the white law as it applies now and then but there is only one law really when they come to the wire and that is Aboriginal law, but in other communities it is a combination of both.

SUEt Would you like to see the people that are being punished have a choice as to which law they will be tried by?

PERKINSt Well, I think that question really is one that should be considered be lawyers in conjunction with committees of Aboriginal people - and I have a personal opinion on it, but it depends on which area you want to relate it to and also what customs and social practices apply at that particular time in that community, it is a very difficult question that should really be considered by committees of Aboriginal people to see its applicability.